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Artist Uses Everyday Objects to Give People 'Beautiful Experiences'

by on August 16, 2014 7:00 AM

When State College native Annalisa Barron used her father’s office chair and a cardboard box to make a go-kart when she was eight years old, she didn’t know that it was the start of a lifetime of repurposing her world into art. 

She spends days, weeks and even months at a time repurposing the objects around her into artistic projects. When she was young, she would turn bits of wire and old trinkets into necklaces. Now she turns collections of wild plants or discarded wood and clothes into intricate sculptures and paintings.

A recent graduate of Penn State with a bachelor of fine arts degree, Barron says her current situation is unexpected. Though she’s been “experimenting with making contraptions” since she was a child, she never expected to making her living as a professional artist.

She says that, if anything, she expected to be a musician. After spending several years on the west coast playing in various bands, Barron returned home to study painting and drawing at Penn State. Though she still makes music and plays the occasional bar show, her main focus has shifted from music to the visual arts.

“Right now, I’m in a place of transition. I’m on the border between being a full-time, professional artist and just being a poor young person,” she says. “Some months I’m working four jobs and I’m working every day of the week … but I’ll do that in order to have months where I can make my paintings.”

When not driving all over the State College area for her various odd jobs, she lives and works in small apartment in Pine Grove Mills. The walls are covered in paintings ranging from portraits to abstract shapes. A large work desk dominates most of the main room, covered in papers, glues and paintbrushes. Beneath that rests an extensive collection of tools: saws, drills, wrenches, a staple gun and an acetylene torch, among others.

When she moved in, there was a different collection waiting for her: the personal effects and cremated ashes of the 76-year-old man who had lived there before her, whom she had never met. When no living relatives wanted his belongings, she began a project to commemorate his life through a series of paintings.

Barron burned some of his belongings and used the ash to make pigment for paint. She took pieces of his furniture and made canvas stretchers, over which she placed his old clothes instead of canvas. She interviewed residents of Pine Grove Mills for a documentary about his life and wrote accompanying music for it.

This process of repurposing objects into art is one that spans her artistic output, appearing in her films, paintings and sculptures. When she was younger, this grew out of “a longing for something unique, something that will never be assembled again that’s yours and no one else’s.”

While her art does have a very unique – and, at times, vaguely unsettling – quality to it, her use of repurposed materials has a new purpose: to explore the way we attach meaning to the objects around us.

“A lot of the things around us are very connected to human emotions,” Barron says. “If you have something terrible happen to you in a certain place, the things there become mementos of that experience and those emotions.”

But Barron fears that the meaning we attach to objects can sometimes do us harm.

“When I was 18 and 19 and very poor … I found myself living around people who just wanted to pursue the house or the boat,” she says. “I thought it was kind of an empty pursuit." 

In her film “Incarnate” a stop-motion animated marionette made of discarded debris stumbles through an abandoned building, searching for something. He grabs the objects around him and adds them to his face, but remains unsatisfied. Only after finding another living thing – represented by a warm, glowing orb of light – does his search finally end.

“During the scene where he’s looking in the mirror and putting things into his face, a lot of people have told me ‘I’ve been there and it’s not a good place,’ and that’s what I wanted,” she says. “I think that’s something that many people in our culture can understand.”

Barron says she doesn’t know what the future holds for her and says she’s content with where she finds herself in life. Despite never planning on being an artist, she’s accomplished more in the past two years than she ever thought she would.

“Even if I had a plan for where I wanted to go or be, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve had so many plans,” she says. “If I work hard and make genuine work, then I just hope whatever amount of myself or time I put into it will pay off.”

You can find more of Barron's work at AnnalisaBarron.com, as well as on display at the Eisenhower Auditorium on the Penn State campus, and in Chumley's in downtown State College.

Do you know of a talented artist or performer in or around State College? If so, contact Michael Martin Garrett at Michael.Garrett@StateCollege.com, and they may be the subject of his next video feature!


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Michael Martin Garrett is a general assignment reporter for StateCollege.com, a graduate of Penn State and a published poet. He's also a musician who plays bass in an indie rock band.
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